It took Eliana Aguilar three tries to find a major she could sink her teeth into. But once she discovered Concrete Industry Management (CIM), she knew she had found her calling.

“CIM is really all about relationships,” Aguilar said. “It’s a combination of business and engineering, and it’s about bringing those two disciplines together to build something strong and lasting.”

Aguilar has always wanted to find a career where she could help other people. She entered Chico State in fall 2016 as a psychology major and changed her major to social work in her first semester. That still didn’t feel quite right. She thought about business. Then during a conversation with Ben Duarte, outreach specialist with the MESA Engineering Program, whom she had met through a shared connection with her Upward Bound program, he suggested she consider Concrete Industry Management.

“He said, ‘Hey, I know you want to transfer to business, but you should check out this major because you also get a minor in business. You take a bunch of business classes and they teach you how to apply it,’” Aguilar recalled.

She enrolled in“Introduction to Concrete” to see how she would like it, and by the end of the semester, she had declared the major. Since that day, Aguilar has taken advantage of every opportunity to get connected and involved in her newfound academic discipline.

Eliana Aguilar speaks at a microphone during a fundraising event.
Eliana Aguilar, right, is often tapped to speak on behalf of students in the College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Construction Management, such as at the dedication of a newly renovated Advanced Concrete and Structures Lab in October 2019. (Jason Halley / University Photographer)

For the past two years she has worked in multiple laboratories in the College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Construction Management (ECC), assisting instructors, student groups, and clubs with materials and maintenance. She serves as president of the American Concrete Institute’s student chapter, and she’s an active member of the Women in Concrete club. Additionally, she serves as a student ambassador for the Concrete Industry Management program, sharing her experience with prospective students, including a recent trip to Oxnard to visit high schools in her home community.

To be able to share the major and career path she loves with other students has brought her college experience full-circle.

“My heart was always for helping people and social work, and this allows me to do that within my major,” Aguilar said. 

The relationships she has built since joining the CIM program her sophomore year have spanned her fellow students, faculty, staff, administrators, and even donors and concrete industry leaders.

“It’s just a lot of people I’m really grateful for. I think that’s why I have had this opportunity at Chico State of being able to travel and compete and talk to different groups. It is because I have that support from people from all over the college,” she said.

Aguilar fell in love with the Chico State campus the first time she visited on a college tour hosted by Upward Bound. Its beauty—and the physical distance from her hometown of Oxnard—were exactly what she was looking for. A first-generation Mexican American and the first in her family to attend college, it took some persuasion to convince her parents that she should enroll at Chico State as a freshman, rather than start out at a local community college, as they preferred. But Aguilar would not be deterred.

“I had worked hard to create the opportunity for myself to go straight into a four-year university after high school, and I was going with or without their permission. No one was going to stop me,” she said. “Now they look back and they are so happy that I did.”  

Each new opportunity has expanded her horizons and her network, leading to the next opportunity.

“My major at Chico State is closely connected with the concrete industry, and we have a strong patron’s group that donates a lot to the college,” Aguilar explained. “I have received four CIM scholarships donated by our patrons. They have provided money to travel to several conferences and competitions, including in Las Vegas, Texas, and Ohio.”

As a member of the Chico STEM Connections Collaborative (CSC2), Aguilar conducted an undergraduate research project in summer 2018 to study the effect biomass ash and cement-like materials have on air content in concrete. Working with Professor Mohammed Albahttiti, she collected manure samples from the University Farm, then using the ECC’s soil, concrete, and asphalt Laboratories, she incinerated the organic material into biomass ash and incorporated it with cement in varying concentrations to create concrete. In the spring 2019, she presented her research at the CSU, Chico Undergraduate Research Competition and won a trip to CSU, Fullerton for the statewide competition, where she placed second.

Eliana Aguilar presents at the Student Research Competition.
Aguilar scored high for her presentation and communication skills, as well as her scholarly and creative achievements, at the the 33nd Annual Student Research Competition. (Jessica Bartlett / University Photographer)

As strong as her research project and her presentation were, Albahttiti said Aguilar’s teamwork and care for others are what makes her really stand out.

“Wherever you need her, she’s already there, eager to help. Her positivity is incredibly uplifting and prompts anyone and everyone to have a smile on their face,” Albahttiti said.

Brandon Fraser, ECC’s lab support technician and Aguilar’s supervisor, agrees.

“Despite what can sometimes be a chaotic environment in our labs, Eliana is able to focus on completing her own tasks amidst almost constant distraction, and treats all other groups as fellow teams, all of whom want to achieve success,” he said. “Instead of thinking only of her own research team or student group, she effectively treats all groups—research or otherwise—as part of a larger team.”

Aguilar’s leadership with her academic program, and her passion for field of concrete industry management, has opened doors of opportunities for her future. She was one of three Chico State students selected to speak about her internship last year at the World of Concrete, the industry’s largest annual event, expanding her professional network and experience even further. And she has interned twice for PCL Construction in Los Angeles, where she hopes to launch her career when she graduates in December.

“I’m still trying to figure out what route I want to go, whether that’s project management or superintendent or even more of the business route,” Aguilar said. “To a certain extent, I don’t care what position I end up in. I just want to be that person who, if something goes wrong and we need a solution, I want to be the person people come to to solve problems.”

By all accounts, from that standpoint, Aguilar has already reached her goal.